My very first trip to Europe was with my wife Mary Ann and our two young children. It was a visit to London and a driving trip around England and Scotland. This experience hooked all of us on foreign travel and particularly our love for London. Since that time we have visited all over Europe, but we always try, if possible to spend a few days in London when coming or going. It is such a fun and exciting city with endless things to do and see. People are often complaining about how expensive a city it is, but with some planning you can stay modestly, eat well but frugally, and enjoy yourself without having to mortgage the farm. The following are five things we always do in London. It should just be a start for your visit.
The Tube: The subway in London is called the Tube (or the Underground) and remains one of the world marvels of urban transportation. Get a multi-day pass. You can then jump on, jump off, cross the city from one end to the other, and never worry about getting to your hotel, your event, or the tourist site. There is always a tube station within a few blocks of wherever you want to go. There are now 12 different tube lines criss-crossing London making getting anywhere in this huge city fast, safe and simple. A three day travel card costs about $32 U.S. A real bargain. The website for the underground is: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/tube/
Female Shopping (super shopper version): Mary Ann is constitutionally unable to be in London without a visit to Harrods Department Store at Knightsbridge (get off the tube Piccadilly Line at the Knightsbridge station). Harrods is a true British institution and not to be missed, even if you are not a shopper. It is a visual feast, even if you cannot afford most of what is sold there. We seem to end up with a lot of logo type gifts – bears, coffee cups, tea, biscuits etc. One thing we can’t get enough of are the food halls on the first floor. There is a department for every type of fresh food, right in the middle of this huge department store. The presentation is so interesting and colorful you can spend a lot of time just watching the staff and customers. The website for Harrods is: http://www.harrods.com
Male Shopping (travel geek version): While Mary Ann is spending her day drooling at Harrods, I am at London’s leading bookseller, Waterstone’s. It is five stories with tens of thousands of books. I suppose Barnes and Noble has as many, but for some reason they seem to not be the same books. Maybe it is just the British taste in authors and reading. I first fell in love with Waterstone’s when spending a week with an ABA group at Oxford University. Since then we have found Waterstone’s in various cities across Europe. I head for the travel literature department and always find lots of books by travel writers I don’t seem to find in the United States. I can’t usually stay for more than an hour, because if I have any more time there, I can’t lift the sacks of the books I bought. The website for Waterstone’s is: http://www.waterstones.com/waterstonesweb/home.do
The London Theatre: London certainly is fun for its history, architecture, museums, and shopping, but what we think makes it really unique for us, is the London Theatre. Our regimen is to always plan to attend a play every night that we can (plan your visit on days other than Sunday as that is the night most plays are closed). We are very eclectic in our selection of plays as we equally enjoy drama, mysteries, comedies, and musicals. If you don’t go to London determined to see a particular play (for which you will pay full price) you can take advantage of the Leicester Square Half Price Tickets. I am sent (while Mary Ann is shopping!) about 11 a.m. to see what is up on the board of the kiosk, and then I buy tickets for something that looks fun and interesting. This makes attending the theatre relatively inexpensive and sometimes you can even avoid buying dinner. Information about the Half Price Tickets can be found at: http://home.clara.net/rap/half/. For a listing of what is showing and reviews check out: http://www.londontheatre.co.uk/.
Some of the Free Stuff: Recently we gave a gift to our daughters of a trip to London. I think they tried to experiment on just how frugal you could “do” London. I thought they may have been pushing the envelope by visiting The Old Operating Theatre Museum & Herb Garret. Take a look at the surgical operating theatre at http://www.thegarret.org.uk/. The real good news about London is how really free many of the great sites are. So many world cities charge you for everything you visit, but not in London. We enjoy art and art galleries and appreciate the free museums and galleries. A partial list with their websites include:
National Gallery of Art -
National Portrait Gallery -
Victoria and Albert Museum -
British Museum -
Museum of London -
British Library -
Whatever you do in London, it will be a great experience. There are always reasonable airline tickets to London. The website for visiting London and all the delights is http://www.visitlondon.com/.
(Published in the Summer issue of the 2007 ABA JD Record)